Worcester, MA

Tactics Used

Buyer Arrests
Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Worcester is a city of approximately 180,000 residents, located about 40 miles west of Boston and 40 miles east of Springfield in central Massachusetts. It has reported chronic and visible “strolling” in some city neighborhoods for several decades, and has documented multiple cases of child sex trafficking. The community also dealt with a serial killer targeting sex sellers in the early 2000s, and has reported several cases of targeted rape, physical assault, and robbery of individuals engaged in prostitution.  In January 2019, the body of a woman known to be involved with prostitution was found near clothes donation bins, and her unexplained death is believed by local survivors to linked to that involvement.

After years of seeing no lasting benefits from arresting women involved in prostitution and attempting to make cases against pimps, the Worcester Police Department began conducting reverse stings in the early 1990s. During that period, WPD officers conducted frequent street-level operations targeting johns, at times netting over 50 men in a single operation. At the same time, law enforcement and city officials established a city ordinance allowing for the seizure of vehicles used for the purpose of solicitation (1992), and attempted to set up a website to publicize the names of arrested sex buyers (1999). The site was soon taken offline, after city officials received complaints from the ACLU. The identities of arrestees, however, were and are still made available to the public in WPD press releases.

From 2007 through 2012, 210 johns were arrested in reverse stings.  In 2006, media outlets reported law enforcement had begun sending postcards to the homes of owners of vehicles seized during stings with information about the offender’s arrest for soliciting sex.  In December 2014, WPD officers staged dual street-level stings along Main South that resulted in the arrest of 8 sex buyers and 4 prostituted women. All of the johns’ names, ages, and addresses were released to the public, but the women’s personal information was not disclosed. When asked about the 2014 investigation, the Worcester Police Chief commented:

“Today’s sting operation is an example of our ongoing efforts to reduce both the supply and demand side of the illegal sex-for-a-fee transactions taking place on city streets. We recognize that reducing demand for prostitution by arresting the so-called Johns has the greater potential to shrink or destroy the market for this illegal activity. Community efforts in identifying and providing social services for women victimized by prostitution are a critical part of any long-term strategy… [At the] request [of] city groups advocating for the women involved in prostitution and in recognition that many women involved in prostitution are victims of drug and prior sexual abuse the Worcester Police Department opted not to release their addresses in a press release.”

Street level reverse stings in 2018 included one in August that produced the arrest of 8 sex buyers, and one in the Main South area of Worcester in October that produced 12.  In July, 2019, a reverse sting in the South Main area led to the arrest of six sex buyers.  In February, 2020, a reverse sting in the same area produced the arrests of another six men on offering to pay for sexual conduct charges.

John Schools

In 2007, a john school program – Community Approach to Reduce Demand (CARD) – was launched.  Several classes were held between 2007 and 2009 and the program, modeled after the First Offender Prostitution Program in San Francisco, appeared to have a comprehensive curriculum and to be implemented effectively.  From 2010 to 2012, few classes had been held, due to few reverse stings being conducted and therefore a shortage of police or court referrals of sex buyers to the program.  In late 2012 and early 2013, police activity picked up somewhat, and john school classes resumed.

One john school session occurred in April 2013, but the program did not operate consistently for several years afterward as the Worcester PD shifted priorities away from arresting sex buyers.  In October 2014, Worcester drew significant media attention after a report by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR) noted that the city, as well as several other communities in the area, had arrested a disproportionate number of sex sellers (157) to buyers (14) in 2013. A similar divide– 113 sellers, 5 buyers– was reported for 2014. Although WPD officers declined to comment on these arrests, the Springfield Republican reported that the department submitted a written statement to NECIR that stated that they have prioritized “reducing the visible presence of prostitution related activity that negatively impacts the quality of life in our neighborhoods” and that staging reverse stings pose “significant investigative challenges.”  Since 2015, there has generally been more gender balance in prostitution arrests.  In August 2018, Worcester Police Vice Squad conducted a reverse sting in the Main South area of Worcester, arresting eight males, all of whom were arraigned at Worcester District Court.

In 2018 and 2019 the  Worcester Police Department and Spectrum Health Systems have collaborated on a reconfigured “john school,” which aims to hold men who are caught buying sex accountable for the toll that prostitution takes on individuals and communities. The program is held periodically at WPD headquarters, and brings in community residents, business owners, a public health nurse and survivors who talk about what it’s like for prostituted and trafficked persons be treated as a commodity or to live or work in a neighborhood where such activity occurs.

Neighborhood Action

In one area of the city, local residents mobilized to form End Demand Worcester, and held a rally to urge law enforcement to do more about prostitution in Main South, an area long troubled by commercial sex activity. The group reported problems with “early morning and late at night trolling” by johns in the vicinity and verbal harassment of female residents. When asked about the issue, one resident and member of the Main South Community Development Corporation noted: “Johns really affect the quality of life of our neighborhood… johns can be shamed and arrested out of this.”

Key Partners

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey, Interviews and Site Visit

John School

  • “Dear John: Can You Teach Men Who Pick Up Prostitutes Not to Buy Sex?”, Boston Globe, October 11 2009.”
  • “Here and Now: Interview on Prostitution and John School”, NPR/WBUR 90.9, January 2010.”
  • “Sex Education Lesson for Johns, Pitfalls of Paying for Prostitutes”,  Worcester Telegram & Gazette, September 14 2007
  • “Dear John; Can You Teach Men who Pick up Prostitutes Not to Buy Sex? Part Education, Part Intervention, a ‘School’ in Worcester Takes Aim at Reducing Demand on the Streets”,  Boston Globe, October 11 2009.
  • https://www.telegram.com/prostitution-survivor-in-worcester-says-its-about-exploitation-not-about-robert-kraft (2019)

Reverse Stings, Shaming, Auto Seizure, Letters

Neighborhood Action

  • “Worcester Vice is Targeted by Mobile Video”, Boston Globe, September 2 1990.”
  • “Tough Action Advocated in Fight against Prostitution”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, June 15 1996
  • “Activists Zero in on Prostitution in Main South”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, June 22 1997
  • “Blue Collar Worker Reclaims His Neighborhood, Helps ‘Main South’ Area of Worcester”, Massachusetts News, May 2001
  • “Watching Over Worcester: Community Crime Fighters”, Worcester Magazine, March 23 2011
  • “Police Focus on Prostitution in Worcester’s Main South”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, April 18 2012

 Background on Prostitution in the Area

  • “Prostitutes Tested for Deadly Disease”, Nashua Telegraph, February 18 1986
  • “Hustling on the Triangle; Male Prostitutes Risk AIDS, Growing”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, September 24 1989
  • “Main South Night Patrol Is Kept Busy”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, January 26 1992
  • “8 Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, November 16 2003
  • “14 Arrested in City Vice Squad Sweep”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, June 4 2004.”
  • “Vice Squad Arrests 11 in Prostitution Sting”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, August 22 2005.”
  • “Prostitution Sting Team Strikes”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, February 13 2006.”
  • “12 Charged in Prostitution Sting”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, August 10 2007.”
  • “Prostitution Burrows into Neighborhood Life”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, October 1 2007
  • “17 Arrested in Prostitution Sting in Main South Neighborhood”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, September 10 2010.”
  • “City Woman Faces Prostitution Charges; Operation of 2 Brothels Is Alleged”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, June 23 2012
  • “Suburbs Seeing Their Share of Sex Trade”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, November 12 2012.”
  • “Worcester Officials Seek Ways to Curb Prostitution”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, October 1 2012.”
  • “Prostitution, Drugs Raise Concerns of Student Safety in Main South”, Worcester Magazine, September 26 2013
  • “Worcester Police Charge Five Women with Prostitution-Related Offenses”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, March 21 2014
  • “In Search of Prostitution Solution, Worcester Wants to Crack down on Johns, Help Victims,” Worcester Telegram & Gazette, January 13 2015
  • “Woman Working to Help Worcester’s Prostitutes Get off the Streets Used to Be One of Them,” Worcester Telegram & Gazette, January 29 2016
  • https://www.masslive.com/men-are-the-perpetrators-here-prostitution-arrests-worcester (2021)
  • https://www.masslive.com/worcesters-lift-opens-new-location-harbor-program-offering-prostituted-shelter (2021)

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area

  • “Former Worcester Man Guilty of Inducing Boy into Prostitution”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, February 23 2000
  • “Man Gets 3 1/2 Years in Prostitution Case; Worcester Boy Was Pawn in Extortion”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, February 29 2000
  • “2 Men Sentenced in Teen Prostitution; 13-Year-Old Boy Was Procured for Sex”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, March 10 2000
  • “3 Men Held in Worcester Kidnapping, Women Taken to Boston”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, March 14 2003
  • “Man Seeks to Seal Records, Charges Involving a Minor Prostitute Were Dismissed”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, May 7 2003
  • “Nearly Two Dozen Rounded Up in Sex Sting”, Worcester Telegram-Gazette, April 3 2003

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area

  • “Serial Killings Suspected in Mass.”, Associated Press, March 25 2004
  • “Slayings Highlight Need for a Women’s Shelter; Prostitutes, Drug Abusers Seen as Being at Serious Risk”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, March 28 2004
  • “Serial Killer’s 3 Victims Shared Short, Troubled Lives”, Norwalk Hour, April 10 2004
  • “Slayings Highlight Community at Risk, Program Examines the Troubled Lives of Three Victims”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, July 20 2004
  • “Woman’s Apparent Slaying Probed, Police Suspect Link to Deaths of 3 Others”, Boston Globe, September 19 2004
  • “Mean Streets, Desperate Lives; The Area of Worcester, Mass., Where Wendy Morello Was Last Seen Alive Is Plagued by Crime, Drug Addiction– and the Killings of Four Prostitutes in the Last Year; Police”, Portland Press Herald, September 26 2004″ Lack of Clues Stymies Case on Serial Killer”, Boston Globe, December 16 2004
  • “Serial Killer Sought; ‘Person of Interest’ in Prostitute Slayings”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, May 2 2008
  • “Man Is Guilty of Rape, Kidnapping; Prostitutes Said They Were Assaulted”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, January 30 2010
  • “Ex-Officer Gets 10 to 12 for Rape”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, February 26 2010
  • “Alex Scesny of Berlin to Be Tried for Raping, Murdering Theresa Stone”, Associated Press, April 29 2010
  • “Scesny Rape, Murder Trial Date Slated”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, April 29 2010
  • “Witness Says She Was Kidnapped; Man Charged with Knife-Point Rape, Beating of Prostitute”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, April 22 2011
  • “No Sexual Assault Found; 1 Charge Sticks in City Case”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, April 24 2011
  • “Scesny Guilty of ’96 Fitchburg Murder”, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, March 29 2012
  • “Briddon Convicted on Rape, Assault”, Worcester Magazine, July 23 2012
  • “Worcester John Gets 8-10 Years in Rape of Prostitute, Assault with Brick,” Worcester Telegram & Gazette, January 16 2015
  • “Millbury Man Convicted of Attack on Prostitute in Sutton Cornfield,” Worcester Telegram & Gazette, June 9 2015
  • “Woman Working to Help Worcester’s Prostitutes Get off the Streets Used to Be One of Them,” Worcester Telegram & Gazette, January 29 2016

Child Endangerment

  • “Nearly Two Dozen Rounded Up in Sex Sting”,  Worcester Telegram-Gazette, April 3 2008
State Massachusetts
Type City
Population 182544
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